Low-cost activated carbon promises scalable water disinfection

Oct 4, 2019 | Media Coverage of PROTECT, News on Environmental Health, Project 4 (Green Remediation), PROTECT Team

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Since most current technologies have serious limitations – for example, chlorination produces halogenated carcinogens and ozonation is costly and dangerous to operate – researchers in the PROTECT center aim to develop scalable, safe, and low-cost water treatment technologies. Recently, researchers used activated carbon, one of the cheapest functional carbons, to perform water disinfections. Activated carbon particles loaded into the cathode of an electrochemical cell transform oxygen molecules into hydrogen peroxide, which is then catalyzed by ferrous ions to form hydroxyl radicals. Based on the
strong oxidation potential, hydroxyl radicals play the central role in water disinfection through destroying cell membrane and vital cellular components such as DNA and functional proteins. Results confirmed that E. coli as a model pathogen could be successfully disinfected by the activated carbon-based water disinfection technology (Refer to Catalysts 2019, 9(7), 601 for more details).

Activated carbon is not only cheap but also a sustainable material that could be easily manufactured from biomass precursors such as plants. In addition, the reactor developed by the PROTECT research team could possibly use solar power to generate the electrical energy needed to complete the disinfection reaction. Therefore, this technology is especially attractive for low-income regions.

Written by Long Chen